Stu Lloyd is well-known in Thailand and Southeast Asia for his books on the region, and his ability to see the funny side of things in just about everything he comes across. His latest book ‘Tales From the Tiger’s Den’ is something of a departure from his usual style, as he takes time out to focus on other people who have lived in or around Southeast Asia or the Orient. They are businessmen, accidental entrepreneurs, authors, et al … but all have that spirit of adventure that led them to experience a life outside that of their homeland. We learn about the places they lived in, first-hand, from their reminiscences, delving into their best-remembered and most precious memories. It all feels very real. You might find yourself wishing you had had the same sort of experiences. Maybe you still can.
The respected author of 39 books and many magazine articles, Jerry Hopkins, did something similar with his well-received anthology ‘Romancing the East’. Jerry passed away in Bangkok in his early 80s only three years ago. I think Jerry would have been pleased to read Stu Lloyd’s latest tome.
Tales From the Tiger’s Den sees Stu heading out to chat with the people he writes about, and has come up with an absorbing book that sheds a little light on times gone by, and also gives us an insight into the people who lived in them. A few are still with us, others, sadly, are not. But here they live on.
The book looks at twenty-one quite different people, some of whom you may already be familiar with, some not so much, and some not at all. No worries, here you have the tools to let you become a little closer to them all. For myself, I was immediately drawn to travel writer Harold ‘Steve’ Stephens, as I have been familiar with him for over 30 years, since I came to live in Thailand, and I have enjoyed reading many of his magazine or newspaper articles. Harold Stephens passed away in Bangkok, January 2021, at the age of 94. He was born in the USA, but came to the Orient via the armed forces, when the US had joined forces with the Chinese, to oust the invading Japanese. Harold was a true-life ‘action man’ who travelled the world and wrote about the places he had been to and the people he met. But actually, one of his friends, writer James Clavell, once mentioned that a book based around the exploits of ‘Steve’ (as he liked to be called) would probably be more exciting than even his own fiction novels. It would include Steve’s 200,000 mile sailboat trip around the world, studying at a university with Jacqueline Kennedy, driving the length and breadth of Africa, being employed as a ‘travel writer’ in Vietnam during the war, working as an extra on Mutiny on the Bounty, and becoming a drinking buddy of Marlon Brando, and, and, and…
You will enjoy reading about Steve, sure.
Stu does not leave the ladies out of things in Tales From the Tiger’s Den’, how could he. One of the most interesting ladies you will discover as you read is Marie Bohman, and one of her earliest memories is of a mob in India, shouting ‘Break your houses! Cut your throats! Throw you in the river!’ Marie was a young girl and she and her family were being threatened by an angry Hindi mob in the European compound of the Czech-owned Bata shoe company in Mokameh, during the times of independence from British rule, and the partition of India.
Marie, by now a pensioner, was speaking in 2006 to Stu for his interview in Sydney, Australia, in a large well-appointed house, along with her life-long friend Ivan Volenta. The connection between her and Ivan began due to both of their fathers working for Bata, and they have many similar memories of growing up during colonial-era India and its transition to a self-governing independent nation.
They can remember the first township the company built, Batanagar, and the Eastern European and British kids they played with during the colonial times. The Bata empire went from strength to strength and took over more and more towns, where the local economies grew alongside the size of the factories and their workforce. Much of the childhood of these firm friends was spent living nearby the banks of the holy Ganges river, with freshwater crocodiles, vultures, dolphins, jackals, and snakes … lots of snakes, Marie recalled.
The strife and struggles the country and its people suffered during the end of colonial times remains fresh in her memory. She vividly remembers when the father of one of her school-friends was burnt alive, only a few feet away from the safety of his house.
But all was not bad; although she missed her parents while away at boarding school she gained a love of classical music, and her schoolmates included the Nepalese royal family, and a girl who would become the famous British actress Vivien Leigh.
Marie never married, and has never been back to India; Ivan took his son back on a visit to show him his heritage … both their lives are now so different, but even after living in Australia for 45 years, Ivan and Marie still enjoy meeting to talk about their early life.And Marie is writing a book about her experiences. Should be a good read.
The eclectic mix of people you will meet in Stu Lloyd’s book, and their stories, will give you many delightful insights into another world. Or maybe one or two of them might even mirror your own.